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Volume 21 No. 30

Colleges

The NCAA has struck a landmark 10-year deal with Genius Sports for the digital collection and distribution of game data, marking the college governing body’s first national-level deal in this area.

 

The agreement with the London-based company will involve the collection of game data at many NCAA championships beginning with 2019 basketball tournaments, including at all divisions and in both men’s and women’s sports, and the licensing and distribution of that data for various clients including media partners. The Genius Sports data platform will then be offered to individual member schools at no cost for an introductory period, and remain recommended by the NCAA after that.

Among the key advantages to the NCAA in the deal are a move toward standardization in the data operations for college sports, and enhanced services for the lower levels of competition and non-revenue sports. The Genius Sports deal arrives after a nearly two-year internal review by the NCAA into its data operations. After starting with basketball next year, other sports will be steadily folded into the platform.

“This presents a big opportunity for us to move into the 21st century,” said Oliver Luck, NCAA executive vice president of regulatory affairs and strategic partnerships. “It’s not just stats, but we really see this as big data. It’s going to open things up for us not only externally in terms of the distribution, but also internally and helping our coaches and players get smarter and better.”

The 10-year agreement will begin with next year’s basketball tournaments.
Photo: getty images

NCAA statistics had been handled and sold to third parties such as outside media entities primarily through a disparate series of conference and school-level alignments with various providers, most notably CBS Sports Digital’s StatCrew Software. Some entities will retain relationships with StatCrew.

Genius Sports, which has a growing U.S. presence, operates both data and technology services such as this pact with the NCAA, and an integrity operation to monitor potential match fixing and betting-related corruption. The NCAA deal does not include that latter component. But the company’s other top-tier clients include MLB, the PGA Tour, the English Premier League, FIBA and Bundesliga, among many others.

“This is about laying down a state-of-the-art foundation for data that will then allow the NCAA to really grow and expand from there,” said Bill Squadron, Genius Sports special counsel. Squadron is a longtime veteran of the sports data and analytics space, having previously held senior roles with Bloomberg Sports and Stats LLC before joining Genius Sports in late 2016, and he worked extensively with Steve Burton, Genius Sports managing director, and company chief executive Mark Locke on the NCAA deal. 

Financial terms were not disclosed. But the pact was described as being centered heavily around revenue sharing between the NCAA and Genius Sports of funds generated through the distribution of the collegiate data.

During the review process, the NCAA met with other data services providers including Sportradar about potential alignments. Luck said there were also preliminary talks with Google about collaborating on a newly built in-house data operation the NCAA would run. 

“We looked at a variety of partners and structures. And after seeing what Genius has done, particularly in Europe, that ultimately presented the best option for us,” Luck said.

Google is the NCAA’s official public cloud partner following a deal signed last December and is migrating more than 80 years of historical NCAA data from 90 championships and 24 sports into a new cloud platform. That data will also be used in part with media partners, as well as aiding selection and seeding efforts for NCAA championships. There will likely be some cooperation between Google and Genius Sports on their respective NCAA work. But formally, the two deals will exist in their own separate areas.

Natesh Rao spent 20 years as a U.S. Navy pilot, during which time he flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a commanding officer and led a carrier-based fighter squadron.

 

When Rao retired from the Navy in 2016, he said, it was expected that he would follow the norm and become a commercial pilot. “You definitely get pigeonholed,” he said.

Rao

Fortunately for Rao, he had options, holding an undergraduate civil engineering degree from Georgia Tech and a master’s degree in international studies from Tufts University before leaving military service. After a brief stint working in government affairs and public policy for Starbucks, Rao last year was hired as a senior associate athletic director at Arizona State University.

Now, to help his fellow vets also find more job opportunities, Rao is touting a new online graduate program that ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law has designed to help veterans and active duty military personnel leverage their military background to launch careers in the sports industry. Those jobs can range from cyber security to venue management, event planning, data analytics and sales.

The Veterans Sports Law and Business program will be a one-year, 30-hour program, with a strong focus on sports business classes and will result in a Master’s of Legal Studies. It will start in the fall semester and accommodate only 10 to 20 students, giving the program time to find its footing and put more individual focus on job placement. Non-military personnel can take a similar online program that shares some of the curriculum.

Rao said the key is to show employers that hiring veterans makes good business sense. “This is not a charity thing,” he said. “This is good for business.”

Glenn Wong, executive director of ASU’s Sports Law and Business Program, which oversees the new program, said the school has had discussions with AEG, the PGA of America, the NFL and the NBA, among others, to build a network for identifying and creating job opportunities for graduates. ASU also will draw from within, using its athletic department, ties to the Pat Tillman Foundation, and faculty from its business and law schools, to build connections.

Tuition will cost $32,000. Wong said the school hopes the GI Bill and other veterans financial aid programs will ease the costs. He said the school is also in talks with other organizations about offering scholarships.

Rao said he first presented the veterans program idea to Wong and ASU law school dean Douglas Sylvester last August.

ASU has been recognized by Victory Media as one of the most pro-military and pro-veterans universities in the U.S. The school estimates it has more than 7,000 veterans, active-duty military and their dependents enrolled each semester. The school has a veterans alumni chapter and a resource center specifically for veterans.

The Chicago-based Tillman Foundation (which is separate from Arizona State) is set up to honor the legacy of former ASU and Arizona Cardinals player Pat Tillman, who joined the U.S. Army after 9/11 and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. The foundation provides scholarships for active duty and military veterans as well as their spouses to help with post-service career paths.